Green subdivisions are the vaporware of the home-building industry. But northwest of London, British developers are pulling one off on a scale that Americans are still only mocking up in Photoshop. The site, dubbed Oxley Woods, already features 90 eco-friendly homes, with 55 more planned to fill its seven acres. The factory-made dwellings make good on prefab’s promise of low cost and quick construction. They take as little as $118,000 and seven days to erect: five in the plant and a day and a half onsite, where crews slide and screw together the modular pieces. (Electrical, plumbing, and other finishing work takes another four weeks.) Manufacturing the major components offsite reduces waste and makes it easier to use green materials, like insulation from recycled paper and lumber harvested from sustainably managed forests.
But the biggest advantage is improved build quality. The same precision manufacturing that makes an Ikea bookshelf easy to assemble makes the Oxley Woods homes nearly airtight. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t well-ventilated. Each abode has an environmentally responsible cherry on top: A self-contained unit called an EcoHat controls circulation with a tiny 10-watt fan, pushing out stale air and drawing in fresh stuff, which is then solar-heated to warm the house. Maybe they could ship some of these gems over the pond — the US housing market could use a breath of fresh air.
May 23, 2008